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Thursday, July 27, 2017

Venezuela-Zero Hour

VENEZUELA

The Zero Hour

With violent demonstrations held against his rule on almost a daily basis – one protester died  Wednesday – Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro appears ready to quash the civil unrest that has gripped his country.
Now the left-leaning, former acolyte of the late Hugo Chavez might be about to unleash his most audacious move yet: holding a vote July 30 to elect a Constituent Assembly equipped with sweeping powers, including the power to rewrite the country’s constitution.
Maduro’s opponents fear these changes – which also may scrap upcoming elections and dissolve existing state institutions – that would create a single-party, authoritarian state á la Cuba, according to the Associated Press.
In response, the United States on Wednesday imposed sanctions against 13 current or former Venezuelan government officials, CNN reported.
But in Maduro’s eyes, a new assembly is the only means of bringing peace to the country, wrote Reuters.
Welcome to the Zero Hour.
Venezuela has been in economic free-fall for two years due to the plunging price of oil, its main export, and chronic corruption and inefficiency. Food and basic medical supplies are scarce.
Resistance to Maduro’s rule has been mounting for months. At least 84 people have died as a result of government unrest since April.
Earlier this month, Venezuelans turned out in droves – 7.2 million by some estimates – July 17 for an unofficial, non-binding referendum on Maduro’s plans to rewrite the Venezuelan constitution, said CNN. An overwhelming 98 percent rejected the proposed constitutional assembly.
“We are saying enough is enough: leave this country alone,” Mirlena Hernandez, 27, of Caracas, who voted against Maduro, told Canada’s CBC News. “I can’t find diapers or milk in the stores for my baby, despite the fact I work all day long. We want a better future.”
Unsurprisingly, Maduro dismissed the opposition’s referendum as “illegal and meaningless,” wrote the Guardian. He continues to reject calls to step down, even after the strike.
Still, the Venezuelan president would do well to take the opposition’s concerns more seriously.
President Donald Trump has already warned Maduro he won’t hesitate to take additional “strong and swift economic actions” if Maduro goes ahead with his plans to for a new Constituent Assembly.
More US punishment, the Associated Press noted, could help the protesters achieve their goal of ousting Maduro. It could also lead to a scenario that no one wants: an all-out collapse of the Venezuelan state.